All 2 Bob Seely contributions to the National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21

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Tue 17th Nov 2020
National Security and Investment Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & 2nd reading
Wed 20th Jan 2021
National Security and Investment Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons & Report stage & 3rd reading

National Security and Investment Bill

Bob Seely Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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I know that my hon. Friend cares very deeply about this issue and, indeed, she and I have had discussions about it. I would say to her that the Bill is agnostic as to the domicile of an acquirer. I think that that is right and proper, but it is also right and proper that we look at every single transaction on a case-by-case basis. Let me assure her that if there are security concerns with any transaction, of course we will act.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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There is a lot in the Bill that I am sure we all support, but does my right hon. Friend accept that without a public interest test, a character test, an anti-slavery test and a human rights test, the definition of national security being offered here is extraordinarily narrow and problematic to the broader age that we live in? Does he accept that there will be debate around that point—about what constitutes national security in this age?

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Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. Of course, self-referral, as he refers to it, is possible. In fact, if any company has particular concerns as to transactions that they may be undertaking or part of, they will get a swift assessment from the Government.

I make the point, though, that we will not be effectively publicising call-ins when they take place. Clearly, at the end of a transaction, if there was a particular remedy, that would be made public. It is also worth pointing out that the Government will publish an annual report, not on individual transactions, but on the scope of the transactions and sectors that have been looked at. I hope that that will give future investors an opportunity to consider the type of transactions in which the Government have a particular interest.

The final measure that I want to detail relates to the overseas disclosure of information relating to a merger investigation. Under section 243 of the 2002 Act, there is a restriction on the ability of UK public authorities to disclose merger information to overseas authorities unless the consent of the entity has been given. Clause 59 of the Bill removes that restriction. That will strengthen the Competition and Markets Authority’s ability to protect UK markets and consumers as it takes a more active role internationally, allowing the UK to set up comprehensive competition agreements with our international partners.

In conclusion, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House see that the Bill updates our national security powers in a proportionate, pro-trade and pro-business manner.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Unless I missed it, there is no definition of national security in the Bill. Will the Secretary of State provide a definition or will he commit to putting one in the Bill to give us something to work with?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend raises an important point. As he will know, and I am sure appreciate, I am not going to be able to set out every single test that we will apply when it comes to a national security assessment. The application of the tests will, of course, be based on information that we garner from across Government. He can be certain that in using the powers, the Government will act in a quasi-judicial fashion, we will have regard to the statement of policy that has been published, and we will act, again, in accordance with public law principles of necessity and proportionality. I also made the point earlier that any decision can, of course, be challenged by an affected entity.

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Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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The right hon. Gentleman has taken a huge interest in these issues and, again, speaks with great expertise, and he may well be right that it is possible to do more on the definition. I am sure that is something the Secretary of State will consider. I can see there are definitely challenges, but I would agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the more guidance there can be for business about this, the better, because the more we will avoid a mountain of notifications that are not necessary and the more clarity there will be and the greater protection for our economy.

Fourthly, I want to talk about the role of this House in scrutinising the effects of this legislation. A large number of areas are left to delegated legislation in this Bill. Notably, the Bill enables Ministers to add new sectors to those subject to mandatory notification. I understand some of the reasons for this, but I do hope there can be proper scrutiny, if that is the case, in this House and, indeed, interaction with business. Given the sensitive nature of the issues involved in this Bill, I do think there needs to be a way—an annual report is envisaged, I believe, by the Secretary of State—for this House to monitor how this is working in practice.

I do not speak for it, but we have a special Committee of the House—the Intelligence and Security Committee—that can look at these issues. I would like to raise the question with the Secretary of State whether it could play a role in scrutinising the working of the regime and some of the decisions being made, because there are real restrictions on the kind of transparency there can be on these issues for the reasons raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). The ISC is in a sense purpose-built for some of these issues.

Again, this is one of a range of issues we will seek to raise during the passage of the Bill, because I think that it is really important. We see our role as a constructive Opposition to get this right. There is a shared understanding across this House that we need to update our legislation. There does need to be proper scrutiny, and I hope that there can be good scrutiny in Committee and an openness on the Government side to the points that are made across the House in relation to improving the legislation and a proper way to look at its operation, which is vital to our businesses.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Is the shadow Secretary of State aware that some people on this side of the House, as part of this process and as part of the scrutiny, have been calling for an annual statement on strategic trade dependency to give ourselves an overview and an understanding of the strategic direction of some of our industries, including specific examples?

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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It sounds like a good idea to me, and I would welcome that. Actually, that is a convenient segue to the wider points that I want to make on this Bill.

Our view is that this is only one part of the change we need, because I believe that the existing legislation has been found wanting. That legislation was passed by a Labour Government—I checked—and I think it was more or less agreed across parties; certainly, the then Opposition did not vote against it. It has been found wanting not just on national security but on wider issues such as the public interest test for takeovers on economic grounds.

I just want to raise a very specific issue, because it illustrates the point. We are in the midst of a threatened takeover in the tech sector: the Nvidia-ARM deal. We know that ARM is the crown jewel of the British tech sector. We know that Nvidia competes with companies to which ARM supplies. There is a widespread view across the tech sector and across this House that this takeover could be a risk to the future prosperity and success of the sector in the UK, but looking at the Secretary of State’s statement of intent, I do not think that it falls in this list. The list of trigger risks are: disruptive or destructive actions; espionage; or inappropriate leverage. Those are not the issues with Nvidia. The issue is our wider economic interests, which speaks to the point that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) made.

In the two months since the takeover was announced, we have heard little from Ministers. It is true that there could be a referral on competition grounds—I am sure that the Secretary of State is a bit constrained in what he can say about this, but let us hear it if there is. But we are deeply worried about the future of ARM. We are worried about the strength of the legal assurances on its headquarters and other matters. It would be good if Ministers could tell us what they think about this issue. These are deeply serious issues about our industrial strategy and our economic base, and they go beyond national security and, on my understanding, the tests that are set out in the Bill.

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Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)
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It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), not only because he followed me into leadership and discovered just exactly how pointless that really was. On that we can immediately agree, and he may well have stumbled into another point of agreement; he should know, now that he is a Cummings-ite, that I once employed him and then let him go, so maybe it is time for the right hon. Gentleman to do the same. Anyway, beyond that, I want to congratulate him, because there were things on which I did agree with him, as well as, obviously, things that would need further discussion.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his deliberations on the Bill, which I will support tonight. It is long overdue. The debates around the Huawei stuff at the beginning of the year really exposed the fact that the UK had lost its way in this area in terms of threats and so on. We were behind the others—Australia, the United States; some of our big Five Eyes compatriots—but at least my right hon. Friend has grasped the nettle and brought this Bill forward, which is laudable. I also thank him for his courtesy in the course of this, in the sense that he spoke to me and, I know, to others. I particularly commend the courtesy of his Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), who is a very good friend. He went out of his way to talk this through with colleagues on both sides of the House.

This debate is in that context. This is right. I particularly like clauses 32 to 39 and onwards, which deal with penalties, fines and incarcerations, the scope of which is up to five years. These are strong recommendations—slightly stronger than I expected, to be quite frank, but they are well worth it. There are many other good things about the Bill. I will not run through them all, because the Secretary of State did that, and I want to tease out a few points that I think are relevant and need inquiry.

The Bill gives the Secretary of State great powers for industrial strategy—powers to screen these investments that we have been discussing and to address the national security risk that they involve. It also gives him the power to call in investments. We have been through those already. However, I want to pick up on the things that I think are missing from the Bill and that I hope the Secretary of State will look at again in the course of its passage.

First, we have to accept that parked across this space are two very big threats: Russia and, of course, China. In fact, I think China is now the single biggest threat and problem posed to the United Kingdom and the free world. The way it is going—its problems, its difficulties, and the way it is focusing on internal suppression, external expansion and trashing both World Trade Organisation rules and laws—means that we will have to deal with that, and I suspect that this Bill will progressively be right in the middle of that. In dealing with that, I want to raise a couple of issues. In dealing with that, I want to raise a couple of issues.

Without this definition of national security, the Government are giving a stick to beat themselves with at the moment. Having such a definition is important for two reasons. First, it helps to improve clarity—a couple of my hon. Friends wanted clarity. I have looked at some of the definitions out there, including the American definition, which may not be perfect but it does cover some of the wider areas that I will talk about soon under transnational crimes and goes into things such as threats from drug trafficking. It is important for the Government to think carefully about this because it will help to define the Bill.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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On what the shadow Secretary of State said, there is obviously a genuine and good debate to be had on the elements of the Bill. This is not necessarily about industrial policy—I say with great respect to those on the Benches opposite—which is part and parcel of another debate. It is about the modern definition of national security and whether we see it as narrow or broad, and there is a strong argument today for having a broader definition of national security.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith
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I agree with my hon. Friend and I agree that this is not the Bill to discuss industrial strategy. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North made wider points which I think are worthy of discussion, but I am not sure that that discussion should take place in relation to this Bill and I want to keep this narrow.

First, in China something very special is taking place: the idea of civil-military fusion, which is now infecting every single enterprise and company in China. The Chinese military, as we have already heard, uses this concept and strategy to acquire intellectual property, technologies and research for civilian use and for military use. An external investment screening body, therefore, should be set up under this legislation, to establish and investigate cases where this may now affect UK investments. This is very important, because the rules are very strictly applied in China: you co-operate with the intelligence services or you are out of business. You may be out of not just your livelihood but your freedoms.

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Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the thoughtful speech of the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie). May I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) in paying tribute to the Front-Bench team for their courtesy in being open about the development of the Bill and for their communication with all parties in the House?

This is an important Bill at an important time. In recent years, we have seen a tendency on the part of some countries to move towards national measures that seek to protect their domestic economics from the open conditions of international trade, not only in goods and services but in ownership and intellectual property, and we of all nations should be a voice against that. Few nations have prospered through pursuing a policy of national self-sufficiency. Over time, they have become deprived of innovation, competition and investment, although the exposure and experience of international trade and investment can be disruptive and uncomfortable. In the end, workers become less productive than in other countries, consumers pay more and those countries use technology that is behind what other more open economies allow. In other words, they become less prosperous.

The importance of this Bill pivots on its title. Is it exclusively about national security, or is “and Investment” a doorway to a more restrictive view of overseas investment more generally? I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it absolutely clear that the Government have decided that it is the former, rather than the latter, although there are some dangers that I want to touch on.

Do we need a statutory framework to ensure our national security when it comes to commercial investments? Yes, of course we do. There are commercial activities conducted in this country that are essential to our national security—defence contractors are an obvious example. Public policy has always recognised that, whether through the use of export controls on their products or, in the case of ownership, through golden shares and the intervention powers of the Enterprise Act 2002 for national security, which have been referred to.

Does the framework need to be kept up to date? Yes, of course it does. As the Secretary of State made clear, technologies that are now pivotal to our national security had not been dreamed of 18 years ago when the Enterprise Act passed through this House. The nature of some of those technologies is such that their financial value may not be reflected in the ownership of the company concerned, so they may be pivotal but not trigger the turnover test. The turnover and the value of the transaction may not be a dependable guide to their importance to national security. The control of those technologies may not be confined any more to takeover bids for public companies; it may include ownership outside the stock market of intellectual property or other assets.

Most nations on earth have a framework for overseeing the national security consequences of investments. It is important that we have one and that ours is up to date. The Government are right not to expand the Bill beyond national security or to introduce, as the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) said, a wider public interest or industrial strategy test. I say that as the author of our current industrial strategy, of which an essential pillar is our business environment. That strategy says that we need to continue to be

“an open, liberal free-trading economy in which new businesses can be created easily”

and

“existing businesses can attract investment”.

It is obvious that if a British company has succeeded and has made an international impact, we want it to continue to succeed and prosper in this country, and to do so with its headquarters and operations here. That goes without saying. The most important thing is that the company is founded and prospers in the UK in the first place, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) said. Especially in fields such as the tech sector, if we tell the founders of new businesses that, should they succeed, they will be excluded from the possibility that they can receive overseas investment, or at the very least that it will be heavily questioned if they should cede control of the business, and that the more their business succeeds, the more draconian the restrictions are likely to be—although Silicon Valley continues to be a major source of international capital investment—the consequence, no doubt unintended, may be that those firms will not be founded here in the first place but will go to places where there is no risk of there being stranded assets.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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My right hon. Friend is making an important point, and there is clearly friction on this side over what we see as the crux, but does he accept that the United States and Australia—two free-market nations—will have significantly tighter restrictions after this Bill than we will, and does that concern him?

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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Of course we should look at the example of other countries; I am sure we will do so during the course of the Bill. However, I would say to my hon. Friend that those two countries are very different in their markets and the size of their economies. The pool of capital that is available to start-up companies in the US is vastly greater than it is in the UK at the moment, although I hope that will change, for reasons that I will go on to discuss. Australia, conversely, is a much smaller economy, which does not have the network of policy regulatory innovation that we have.

We have been a leader; that is our international reputation, and one reason that transactions are conducted in this country is the confidence in our rule of law. We should emphasise and champion that, rather than feeling compelled to follow what other countries are doing in their entirety. Our policy—our industrial strategy—must be to make Britain an even more attractive place for innovative companies to be founded and to stay—not because they are compelled to do so, but because the environment that we provide, in terms of scientific research, educated and trained people, the availability of capital at every stage in their development and the public policy environment make it an attractive place for them to want to be.

Neither must our regime establish, in my view, a list of countries that cannot invest at all in the UK. The test must genuinely be about national security. That is very appropriate. China has been mentioned already in these discussions, and of course it is right and proper that the national security concerns that the House has about China should be reflected through this regime, and these powers are important for that. However, when I was sitting in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s place, I fought hard to save, for example, British Steel in Scunthorpe, Skinningrove and Teesside. The Chinese steelmaker that bought the company, Jingye Group, is essential to the employment of many tens of thousands of people across the north and the east of England, and more in the supply chain. From my recollection, there was no intellectual property vulnerability in terms of its operations. Indeed, the retention of that substantial steelmaking capacity has enhanced our economic resilience, whereas losing it would have seen us relying on imports. I might say the same for Geely, the owner of the London Electric Vehicle Company, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), being a west midlands MP, will be familiar with, and which gives valuable jobs to many people.

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John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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That is an excellent suggestion from another member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. My goodness, we are here in force and working as a team, as you can see, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is important that the House considers these matters, as well as the Committees I mentioned which have a particular responsibility for dealing with these things and holding the Government to account.

The point was made earlier that the national interest and national security are not identical. But they are coincidental—they do overlap—as there is a point at which national resilience, or its absence, compromises national security. The Government acknowledge that in the scope of the Bill. They talk about critical national infrastructure, as well as technology sectors of various kinds. By the way, I first looked at this issue, Madam Deputy Speaker—this is not a widely known fact, but I am happy to share it in the privacy of this intimate gathering—as a Cabinet Office Minister, with the former Member for West Dorset, Sir Oliver Letwin. We looked particularly at the threats posed to core infrastructure, such as the energy sector. By the way, that threat is posed not only by hostile state actors, but other players who might choose to disrupt core activities, with extraordinarily damaging consequences for our citizens. The Government do look at those things, but historically I do not think they have done so systematically enough. I know my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells, who has a distinguished record in this area, will have had similar experiences to me when we, in turn, looked at energy as part of our ministerial responsibilities.

China has been mentioned. I do not want to speak about it at great length, but clearly the ISC is currently looking at China and will be considering these very subjects in relation to that inquiry. That will come as no surprise to the House or the Minister.

I said this Bill was necessary, but necessity requires a degree of precision and I have some specific questions that I hope the Minister will deal with, either in summing up or by writing to the ISC if he does not have time to address them today. In looking at a specific case, will the investment security unit be able to consider the cumulative effect of a particular business transaction? In other words, will it take into account whether past acquisitions in that sector, when combined with the case currently under consideration, will result in a cumulative threat to national security? Moreover, will the unit consider acquisitions that might result in an indirect threat, for example, through supply chains or managed service providers? This may well involve very small businesses; sometimes a single expert or a small group of experts will play a vital role, as component parts, in either a technology or an industry that is vital to our national security.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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My right hon. Friend is making an excellent point in an excellent speech. He is highlighting the need to understand national security not only as individual events and individual companies, big or small, but as a series of cumulative processes. Those gradual processes, over time, are as important to understand.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. Just before the right hon. Gentleman replies, let me give a gentle reminder that we have a lot of speakers still to go and I know the Minister wants to give a full reply at the end.

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Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), who was a very successful businessman before he entered the House. I am also looking forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Minister when he sums up later.

Foreign investment in the UK is an unalloyed good thing, and we would all be much the poorer without it. Inward investment stimulates our economic growth across the entirety of the UK. In 2019 alone, as the Secretary of State told us, almost 40,000 jobs were created thanks to foreign direct investment, with most of those outside London, despite its global reach.

Foreign investors in the UK create more exports and spend more on research and development than our domestic businesses, giving the lie to some of the things that we have heard from Opposition Members this afternoon. Let us remember that every doctor, nurse and careworker who has looked after us during the pandemic is paid for directly from the product of the economic growth that results from being one of the most open economies in the world. That is one reason why I congratulate the Government on recently establishing the new Office for Investment, with my noble Friend Lord Grimstone and No. 10 working together to bring high-value opportunities to the UK, such as on net zero, as well as investment in infrastructure and advancing research and development.

I approach this Bill with a degree of trepidation, much as one may occasionally have to approach a golden goose and suggest moving it to a slightly different, newer nest next door. There are many positive aspects of the Bill that I welcome, such as the clear statement of intent about enthusiastically championing free trade—we heard that from the Secretary of State today. I think it is very important that the Minister restates that at each stage of the proceedings. In many respects, this will be a more modern and slicker framework, providing more certainty and clarity for those we seek to attract here to invest. Timelines for assessments will be set out in law, and, as somebody who was previously a practitioner of acquisitions, I know how capricious the current status quo is, so I welcome anything that can make that more predictable. I also agree that aspects such as the turnover test or share of supply are backward-looking in an era when a business can become successful or strategically important while barely out of the incubator.

I hope that the Minister will not mind if I mention some areas for those on the Government Benches to focus on, from the perspective of a colleague who wants the Bill to succeed in its stated objectives. It is really important that it remains narrowly drawn around the risk to national security, and it will be good to hear the Minister again restate that very clearly. To govern is to choose, and it is important to be as clear about what the Bill is not as we are about what it is.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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Naturally, Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope to speak for no more than six minutes. It is a pleasure—genuinely a pleasure—to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith). In the spirit of constructive debate, I am going to disagree with some of his points, but it was undoubtedly the most eloquent argument in favour of a highly free-market approach, though I will ask some questions on it, if I may. I am going to talk a little about national security, and make some supportive suggestions for the Minister and some general points about the nature of national security in the modern world with China.

There is much to support in this Bill, and we can all agree that most of it is very necessary and very good. I would also like to thank the Minister, who is obviously held in very high regard by those on the Government Benches, for his engagement; it is always good to talk to him. I have actually rather enjoyed listening to the debate, because clearly a lot of constructive suggestions are being made, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) for his kind remarks.

I am going to suggest some amendments and then explain why I think they are necessary. For me, there is an issue about national security and our definition of it. That has not been offered so far in the debate, but it sounds like the Government’s definition is too narrow in this age. That does not mean that we are talking about industrial policy. I was very interested to listen to many of the speeches by Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who made some very good points. This is not the space for industrial policy, but it is a question of how we interpret national security.

The amendments I think we should be tabling are on a character test and a public interest test, if not specifically a human rights test. Nobody has ever accused me of being a bleeding heart liberal, but I think that, in this day and age, to have no human rights test, even one wrapped up in a public interest test or a character test, is genuinely confusing, especially because countries that are in many ways more free marketeer than us do have them. Australia has such a character test and a public interest test based on national security, competition, tax revenue, the impact on the country and what it describes as a common sense test. Forgive me if I am wrong, but I thought that we had rather invented common sense, but we do not necessarily have a common sense test or a character test.

While my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs said that he is—I hope I am not misquoting him—ambivalent about the identity of people moving in, I am not. There is an issue about Huawei and there is an issue about ZTE because they are fronts for an authoritarian state. As well as a moral question over what authoritarian states do in their own countries—and, yes, we do tend to wag our fingers at people too much—there is a justified question to be asked, because how foreign authoritarian states treat their own people is very often, given half a chance, how they would treat us, so there is an issue for me here.



The next amendment relates to CFIUS, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. That is a more transparent process and, if I understand it correctly, more people have to sign up to agree, so it is not just sitting within their version of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Defence, the Secretary of State and other players get to sign off on funding for companies. In many ways, CFIUS has a higher threshold than we will have in this country. I do not think anyone is accusing the United States of being less free marketeer than we are, but in this area, they are more conservative. I am not saying they are right or wrong, but I think that it is an important point to note.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) and the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) spoke about the cumulative threat. It is not about a single company or a single issue, but the way an industry changes over time. Indeed, the hon. Member for Aberavon made that point about the slow collapse of the British steel industry. Also, the point has been made that a lot of foreign direct investment is good, but there is clearly a balance.

Finally on the amendments, I would be keen to see something more stated, more obvious or more explicit on critical national infrastructure. Where would we be with Chinese investment in our nuclear industry, for example, if this Bill was already law? That is a matter for genuine debate.

I will move on to one or two other specific points. We are forever telling people how we prioritise human rights and how we lead the world, yet there is nothing about human rights in the Bill. As I have said, I think that lacks consistency, and we need a public interest test.

Next, we are talking about national security without a definition. I was saying to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton North East (Mark Logan) that we need a definition. He is very much a Sino expert: he lived in China and speaks Chinese, which is rather more than I do. He said that it is a very Confucian thing to say that, to have a debate, we need to understand the definition and know what we are debating. It is a genuine Confucian point: where is our definition of national security to have a debate with? We need that. In this day and age, we need a wider definition of national security. It is not just nuts and bolts on tanks—I am not saying that the Minister is saying that—but much wider than that.

The former leader of our party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) talked about civil and military fusion in China. I am somebody who lived in the Soviet Union. I have travelled in China a bit, and I have worked in sort of authoritarian states. The purest free market position here is dated. I am not saying we need an industrial policy approach, but we need an understanding that sees strategic interests—national security and the national interest—in big data, artificial intelligence, facial and gait recognition and all these technologies that Moscow and Beijing want to use to control their own people. I am surprised that the technology being developed by universities potentially does not fall under the Bill, and I believe it needs to.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) made the point, as he ever does, about the importance of Chinese foreign direct investment, and I agree. The point was also made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). Chinese FDI clearly has an important role. It enriches our country, but there is a cost as well.

Finally, we need an amendment on strategic trade dependency. I would like to see an annual statement from the Government on the nature of our strategic trade dependency. If I had stood up a year ago and said, “Personal protective equipment is a strategic issue for this country,” everyone would have laughed and Front Benchers would have been swapping amused WhatsApps at the foolishness of a Back Bencher. Who now denies that PPE is a strategic issue, given the amount of money it has cost us and the delays because we did not have our own industry? Over time, that industry had faded away, and now that has caught us out. There is a wider strategic debate.

There is also the nature of dynamic risk, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings said. Everything that we know about the last year, with the changing nature of authoritarian states, such as China and Russia, the fusion of the civil and military and the entirely different approach to power in those countries, makes me realise that the national security definition that needs to be offered in the Bill, but currently is not, should be, if not broad, then at least have a greater understanding of the modern world we live in than is currently the case in the Bill or this debate. I very much hope there will be movement on that from Ministers.

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Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall
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It is important to recognise that China has a poor track record in this case, which has not been addressed, but of course we are not against foreign ownership. We want to ensure that the structure is in place to scrutinise these acquisitions in the correct way that protects opportunity in this country. I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention.

A few months ago, I broke cover early on to vote against the Government over the proposals to see our 5G network built by Huawei—and I have not lived it down yet! I did so because our core infrastructure should never be compromised by foreign investment, and that was a severe threat to our national security. I welcome the fact that the Government have moved so significantly and plan to phase out Huawei by 2027.

I also did so because of the reports of human rights violations by Huawei. The success of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) in passing the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is a proud moment for the UK, but it is worthless unless we use this Bill to stop dealing with companies that are reported to be using slave labour and looking to invest in the United Kingdom. Nothing in the Bill prevents companies that are complicit in gross human rights violations from investing in the United Kingdom, and that is a huge oversight. It would be an injustice and morally wrong for the UK ever to look the other way as money created from slave labour was invested in this country.

We have been told that this is not the right Bill for such provisions, but with all due respect, that is the same excuse used by the Whips on every single occasion that I have raised concerns about a piece of legislation. If we are going to bring forward the correct pieces of legislation, let us bring them forward. If not, the Government should not be surprised if we try to tack on amendments to address the issues that so many Members across the House feel strongly about.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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My hon. Friend is making such a brilliant speech that I do not want to interrupt him, but I will do so briefly. Does he agree that all these concerns could be wrapped up in a public interest amendment—including, for example, a human rights element—which would give Ministers some leeway and scope to address them?

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall
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My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. I hope that the Minister is listening, that we might expect such an amendment to arrive before us in due course, and that, with the consent of the House, we might see it implemented.

As I was saying, the line between state and civil actor has been blurred. The civil/military fusion requires legislation, and the Bill is in need of development to counter it. I therefore ask the Government very quickly to consider the following few proposals.

First, I would suggest the introduction of a committee on foreign investment. Our colleagues in America have introduced such a system. That would alleviate the pressure for any decisions to be made from political expediency. I believe, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham was saying, that that would promote parliamentary scrutiny and transparency and ensure that there was an understanding of the entire system.

Secondly, I would suggest that the definition of national security be expanded to include human rights. We do more often than not, in this country and in this place, develop policy around moral obligations. This should be one of those cases.

Thirdly, I suggest that we increase the Bill’s scope and use it to tackle organised crime. That has not been mentioned. The UK very successfully closed the domestic trade in ivory. There was a trade across the globe—a domestic trade in ivory that was linked to al-Shabab. There is a way to track organised crime down to terrorist organisations. There is scope within the Bill to do so.

Fourthly, a recent study found that at least 929 UK shell companies used in 89 corruption and money laundering cases accounted for £137 billion. Those companies are registered through Companies House. The Bill should be used to alleviate the burdens and ensure that there are fewer implications for the UK.

We can attract investment and tackle malign activities. I hope the Government will engage, in the same constructive manner in which they have introduced the Bill, and I will be supporting them tonight. I am sorry for going on for so long.

National Security and Investment Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department of Health and Social Care

National Security and Investment Bill

Bob Seely Excerpts
Report stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons
Wednesday 20th January 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 20 January 2021 - (large version) - (20 Jan 2021)
In conclusion, is there a reason why we cannot put all the pieces of the jigsaw together and present clear legislation which ensures that both the investor and the company know and understand the prerequisites and that we are all able to play our part to ensure that the security of this nation—the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, better together—is not at stake, while enabling us to thrive in the future?
Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I thank the Minister for his work and for being here for the debate; I know how busy he is, so I am most grateful. I will speak to new clause 4, which provides a definition of “national security”. After listening to some of the speeches, I wonder whether I am going to play the role of General Melchett in “Blackadder” when I insist that “security” is not a dirty word. Let me try to put the argument in favour of a national security definition. My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) suggested that I do so, and I am grateful to him for the opportunity. Like him, I thank Nicole Kar and Alice Lynch, who supported the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

New clause 4 provides a non-exclusive framework of factors that the Secretary of State would be obliged to regard when he is assessing takeovers or work in this field. It does not limit the Secretary of State in any way, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher), who spoke eloquently, and others suggested. It provides a public recognition and a public baseline of things that should be considered. As such, it is a sensible amendment to improve the Bill, as well as providing a wider public service by defining national security in the modern era. I would like to make a few background points and then speak for between five and 10 minutes on a few other points.

We need a definition of national security, because the alternative is to have a vague and unstated set of assumptions. The amendment is broad, but it sets quite a high benchmark. It is not a generalised catch-all, nor does it contain a substitute for an industrial policy; that is another debate. The Cadbury takeover would not be included in this, nor would a Stilton creamery in South Notts—it might in France, but not in this country.

In this country we have a tendency to romanticise vagueness, as if planning were a bad thing and muddling through a strategic art as well as a national pastime, with this just-in-time Dunkirk spirit. I think it was Churchill who noted that, actually, Dunkirk was a military disaster, not a victory, and that if we had got our security and strategy right in the years previously, we could have avoided glorifying disasters because we would not have been in that disastrous position in the first place. A more systematic approach to national strategy—frankly, I think we need a national strategy council—but also to security and the definition of national security is important.

My next point is that the nature of national security has changed, and we need to be mindful of that. It is not simply about defence and espionage and the immediate threat to the realm. We have seen from Russia and China a combining of non-military and military, of covert and overt strategies—people call it hybrid war, grey war, under-the-radar war; there are about 25 definitions doing the rounds. This is not a war as such, but it is a form of state struggle and state conflict. Some states in the world, including very significant states such as Russia and, perhaps to a lesser extent, China, see things as a zero-sum game. We need to understand that liberal internationalism is not the only show in town and not the only way to understand international affairs. The west is good at many things, but seeing the world through the eyes of others is not necessarily one of them.

These new states, as many people here have said, use multiple and novel tools, including economic power, energy power, espionage, blackmail, information war and even cultural and religious power, as well as military and paramilitary power, and they use different templates and different tools in different parts of the world. Clearly, the tools that China uses in Xinjiang province are different from the ones that it uses in the City of London or to reach out to parliamentarians. The tools that Russia uses in eastern Ukraine or Kiev are different from the ones that it uses in the UK. Is the Kremlin’s use of Russian Orthodoxy a national security threat to us? No, of course not. But is its use of oligarchs and informal channels to influence senior political and financial elites in our country—the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) called it “elite capture”—a potential threat to national security? Yes.

The right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) was right to mention how states are using those new powers and how they use power to bend or break the international system. My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling has also spoken about that repeatedly, as indeed have many of us on the Foreign Affairs Committee. That international system is not perfect, but it has served humanity well.

It is important to understand that national security is not just about a narrow defence threat; it is broader. China has published a document, “Made in China 2025”, outlining how it plans to dominate data, artificial intelligence, big data and so on. Is it a threat to our communications infrastructure if we are dominated by a one-party state with a very different values system? I am not saying definitely, but potentially it would be.

The Henry Jackson Society and I produced a report on Five Eyes supply chain reliance on China. Over a quarter of British supply chains are dominated by China, and the UK is strategically dependent on China for 229 categories of goods, 51 of which have potential applications in critical national infrastructure spheres. We need to be mindful of the impact of that on our national security.

There are companies that are going to be bought and universities that are going to be working on gait technology and facial technology. I do not doubt that there are some countries in the world that will use that technology to improve their mass transport systems, but there are countries—China is potentially one of them—that will use it as a means of controlling their people more effectively and developing the sort of Orwellian state that is a potential threat to humanity and mankind.

Let me look specifically at new clause 4. As I said, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble talked about the need to be nimble, and she is exactly right, but osmosis is not a way to provide a definition of national security. The new clause obliges the Government to look at a series of areas. We tried to make it broad, but it sets a high bar. It requires the Government to look at the critical supply chain, critical national infrastructure and national resource. A year ago, who would have argued that personal protective equipment manufacture, vaccine supply or AstraZeneca’s cyber-security were national security issues? Probably nobody. Who now would deny it? Probably nobody. This is a significant element of our national security.

Another example—one that has worried me greatly—is that the Government did not see Huawei’s domination of 5G as a national security issue. They chose not to listen to those people in the agencies who said that it was and set a clear political direction. It concerned me particularly that, bizarrely, BEIS and other Ministries presented Huawei in this House as a private firm when, clearly, it was part and parcel of the Chinese state. Therefore, having a clear definition in the Bill of what Ministers are obliged to look at would help to guide them to come to good decisions in the national interest, and that is what we are trying to do.

We are trying to do things in the national interest to improve the Bill where we can. Paragraphs (b) and (c) address the threat from individuals and to individuals. Paragraph (c) addresses the nature of potential acquirers of UK firms. The hon. Members for Aberavon and for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) spoke very eloquently about this, and Huawei is instructive.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling spoke about two companies that were bought when perhaps they should not have been, and we need to look at the nature of potential acquirers of UK firms. It is not an attack on laissez-faire economics or on our role as a free market and dynamic, global economic centre to accept that a national security definition, along with good laws, helps to provide a framework for honesty and integrity in business life. Paragraph (f) addresses national security and our responsibility to oppose modern slavery and genocide, which is an important issue for me, but again it sets an extraordinarily high bar.

Paragraph (g) addresses the potential threat of global organised crime. Again Russia, specifically, has tried to influence other countries in this way. Yes, that could be a potential national security risk. Finally, paragraph (h) gives the Secretary of State the flexibility to take a generalised approach to things that are not in the interests of the UK and are a threat to our interests or our citizens.

This new clause is a baseline, not a limiting factor. It helps to provide guidance for the Secretary of State and for BEIS. Frankly, this should be cross-departmental. We need our own CFIUS, and why we do not have one I do not know. Again, that is a concern. I will not address it now, because it clearly is not in the amendment and I am wrapping up.

I fear that the vagueness on national security does not help this Bill, nor does it help national security and its role. Clarity is needed in the long term to help us provide better strategy and a better understanding of the opportunities and risks that face this country in the years ahead.

Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab) [V]
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I start by congratulating Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and by wishing for a violence-free inauguration today. Good riddance to the outgoing President. We will not miss his hate speech.

The National Security and Investment Bill seeks to usher in sweeping reforms to how our Government can scrutinise foreign investment. It proposes strong measures to toughen foreign investment rules and to bring the UK into line with other major countries in key sectors. These steps to keep high-growth and strategically important companies in the UK are overdue and highly welcome, but does the Secretary of State agree that, for the UK to have an active industrial policy that works in the public interest, the Government must go further than just blocking hostile mergers and acquisitions, and instead implement a robust industrial strategy that puts critical national infrastructure at the heart of Government policy?

One example is the recent takeover of Arm, the crown jewel of the British tech sector—a genuine global powerhouse worth more than £31 billion and with more than 6,000 employees. Its recent sale to Nvidia, a US tech giant worth more than £338 billion that is tucked away in the tax-light and secrecy-heavy state of Delaware, provides a clear example of the risky and problematic sale of a British firm to foreign investors, which threatens both security fears and job losses.

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Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
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May I add my congratulations to President Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris, and their national security team?

I thank all hon. Members who have tabled amendments and new clauses and have spoken to them so eloquently: the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie); my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis); the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah); my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat); the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock); the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), who spoke so pithily; my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher); the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones); the hon. Member for Ilford South (Sam Tarry); my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith); the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon); my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely); the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson); my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart); the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western), my neighbour; and of course my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), who reminded us of the words of the great Edmund Burke.

National security is an area of utmost importance, and that has been reflected in a sober and considered debate, with the excellent contributions that we have heard today, and, indeed, over the past few months. I will take this opportunity to respond to some of the points raised this afternoon.

New clauses 4 and 5 create a non-exhaustive list of factors that the Secretary of State must have regard to when assessing national security risks arising from trigger events. In fact, the Secretary of State has joined us to demonstrate how important this Bill is to him. I congratulate him on his elevation to being my new boss at BEIS.

As currently drafted, the Bill does not seek to define national security or include factors that the Secretary of State must or may take into account when assessing national security risks. Instead, factors that the Secretary of State expects to take into account when deciding whether to exercise the call-in power are proposed to be set out in the statement provided for by clause 3, a draft of which was published alongside the Bill. The Secretary of State is unable to call in an acquisition of control until that statement has been laid before both Houses. It is clear from the debate today, and also from conversations with colleagues, that these are the amendments on which there is strongest feeling in the House, and in the Foreign Affairs and Development Committee, so I will take care to set out the Government’s case.

The Bill’s approach reflects the long-standing policy of Governments of different hues to ensure that powers relating to national security are sufficiently flexible to address the myriad risks that may arise. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham, national security risks are multi-faceted and constantly evolving, and what may constitute a risk today may not be a risk in the future. Indeed, the Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling, said in its own excellent report that

“an overly specific definition of national security could serve to limit the Government’s ability to protect UK businesses from unforeseen security risks.”

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Does the Minister accept that what is being proposed is not a limiting arena of what constitutes national security but a baseline of what constitutes national security, and that there may be a reason to adapt it over time? Indeed, paragraph (h) of new clause 4 makes an assumption that it can be expanded.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. As I mentioned, the statement that the Secretary of State has laid with the Bill takes in much of the direction of travel of this amendment from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

I acknowledge that the Foreign Affairs Committee is pushing for more detail rather than less, but I would reassure them that the Government agree with their main conclusion that the Secretary of State should provide as much detail as possible on the factors that will be taken into account when considering national security. Importantly, however, that is only up until the point that the detail risks the protection of national security itself. That is why the Government have taken this approach in the draft statement provided for by clause 3. In that statement, we identify three types of risk that are proposed to form the basis of the call-in national security assessment. These are: the target risk, which considers the nature of the acquisition and where it lies in the economy; the trigger event risk, which considers the level of control and how it might be used; and the acquirer risk, which covers the extent to which the acquirer raises national security concerns.

I would like to address each of the arguments made in the report, so that I can ease the concerns of hon. Members across the House. First, there are concerns that without a narrow definition of national security, the investment screening unit would be inundated by notifications, hampering its ability to deliver its crucial role. I acknowledge that, for business confidence in the regime, it is essential that we deliver on our statutory timeframes for decisions, which is why it is so essential that we do not allow any broadening of the assessment done by officials as part of the regime to occur, whether by inexhaustive lists, as my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight has just said, or by any other form. To include modern slavery, genocide and tax evasion as factors that the Secretary of State must take into account as part of national security assessments, as these amendments propose, would not reduce the demands on the investment security unit but potentially increase them.

Secondly, there is concern that ambiguity could hinder the success of the regime. Let me be clear that this regime is about protecting national security—nothing more, nothing less—hence its real focus. Thirdly, the Foreign Affairs Committee report suggests that the staff responsible for screening transactions may lack sufficient clarity on what kinds of transactions represent legitimate national security risks, leading to important transactions being missed or to a large volume of benign transactions overwhelming the investment security unit. I want to assure hon. Members, and my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, that the investment security unit will be staffed by the brightest and best, with many of them being recruited on the basis that they have essentially written the book on national security.

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Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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They will be able to draw on all the experience, culture and, of course, resources of Government to be able to do their job properly, I assure the right hon. Member of that.

The report sets out a fear, as we have heard elsewhere, that without a definition of national security in the Bill, interventions under the NSI regime will be politicised. I wholeheartedly agree that it is crucial for the success of the regime that decisions made are not political but rather technocratic, dispassionate and well judged. I repeat the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), the former Business Secretary, who on Second Reading assured the House that:

“The Government will not be able to use these powers to intervene in business transactions for broader economic or public interest reasons, and we will not seek to interfere in deals on political grounds.”—[Official Report, 17 November 2020; Vol. 684, c. 210.]

Indeed, if the Secretary of State took into account political factors outside the remit of national security, the decision could not be upheld on judicial review. It is with this in mind, and our focus on protecting foreign direct investment, which so many colleagues are concerned about, especially as we come out of the covid challenge, that politicised decisions will not be possible under the NSI regime. I hope right hon. and hon. Members feel I have sufficiently explained the Government’s approach. We have sought to deliver what the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Opposition recommend.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I will not labour the point beyond this. The Minister says that tax evasion will not be a bar. I accept that the Government made that statement. Does he accept that, in Australia, tax evasion is one of those significant elements? He rather implies that tax evasion and tax evaders will not be opposed in buying UK companies, so how high will the bar be set on criminality or on unsavoury characters—maybe people close to Russian Presidents and oligarchs and questionable companies?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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As colleagues have said, the Bill has been a long time in gestation, from 2017 to the 2018 consultation and White Paper and now today. We look at what other countries do, and I think we have reached a proportionate position. Of course, as I say, the Secretary of State’s statement sets out exactly how he would assess the risks to national security. I hope I have addressed that.

My final point of reassurance is that there will be further scrutiny on this point. As I explained in Committee, the statement provided for by clause 3 will go out to full public consultation prior to being laid before Parliament, and the Government will listen carefully to any proposals for further detail.

Amendments 1, 2, 3 and 6 broadly seek to ensure that the scope of the regime as a whole is right, that mandatory notification covers the right sectors and that both the statement and the notifiable acquisition regulations are reviewed within a year. Amendment 1 would require notifiable acquisition regulations to be reviewed within a year of having been made, and once every five years thereafter. It is right that the Secretary of State keeps a constant watch on these regulations. Indeed, it is vital that he has the flexibility to reassess and, if needed, seek to update the regulations at any time. The nature of his responsibilities under the regime creates sufficient incentive for this regular review.

Amendment 2 would, in effect, introduce two further trigger events to the regime. It would mean that a person becoming a major debt holder would count as a person gaining control of a qualifying entity. The amendment would also mean that a person becoming a major supplier to an entity counted as a person gaining control of a qualifying entity.

We on the Government Benches believe that access to finance is crucial for so many small businesses and large businesses to grow and succeed. They will often take out loans secured against the very businesses and assets that they have fought so hard to build; I did just that when I started YouGov. That is why the Bill allows the Secretary of State to scrutinise acquisitions of control that take place where lenders exercise rights over such collateral, but the Government do not consider that the provision of loans and finance is automatically a national security issue. Indeed, it is part of a healthy business ecosystem that enables businesses to flourish in this country.